Multi-functional one-chip wireless platforms

Chips continue to get smaller and operate faster, thereby enabling the development of amazing devices like smart phones. But, their intrinsic functionality hasn’t changed: they process data at blinding speeds.

Multi-functional chips are different. They are based on the heterogeneous integration of mechanical, chemical or optical functionality, which is enabling chips to function as wireless IoT platforms. These platforms are tightly linked to the application, i.e. they are not generic, instead they are created in response to a specific market need, e.g. compact, lightweight, hyperspectral cameras that are used on drones to make detailed inspections of agricultural fields.

In this case the requisite mechanical functionality is enabled at the wafer level by a combination of photo detectors, hyperspectral filters and CMOS line-scan image sensors.

Hyperspectral imaging is not new in the world of high-end remote sensing instruments such as satellites and airborne systems, but the ability to bring the technology down to earth and enable cost-effective systems for the emerging precision farming industry is a significant breakthrough.

The combination of the on-going miniaturisation capability of chip technology and embedded physical functionality is enabling the development of next-generation diagnostic devices such as compact DNA sequencers and cell sorting devices that detect tumor cells in the blood stream.Drone

In fact, the scaling capabilities enable the integration of a full laboratory on a single chip. This allows doctors to test patients in remote areas for diseases such as Ebola. The secret sauce in this case is a combination of advanced silicon technology and microfluidics, thereby enabling lens-free microscopy and cell sorting based on ultra-small bubbles.

Advance apology for a cliché. These are real breakthroughs that boost performance and lower cost by an order of magnitude. They come from imec, a Belgium-based organisation having over 2,300 people, which conducts world-leading research in nanoelectronics.

Related chip developments include: accurate wearable sensors; flexible thin-film electronic systems and displays; smart watches; intelligent clothing; completely new device concepts, e.g. spin wave devices and new sensor concepts such as mm-wave radars, which enable the requisite radar functionality needed for connected cars to be embedded in a single chip.

I had seen a short presentation from imec and wanted to know how this step-function functionality boost was realised so I visited the facility. However the best way of communicating how it’s done doesn’t come in my words, but rather in this video. The first couple of minutes are generic, then it gets really interesting. Trust me.

https://youtu.be/IWT4TqdlAYI

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